“Non-Vor?” Miles interpreted this.
   “Or worse. Maybe even a mere tech, who knew?” Vorthys permitted himself one tiny ironic glint. Ah, yes. Until his Auditorial apotheosis three years ago, so startling to his relatives, Vorthys had had a most un-Vorish career himself. And marriage.
   And he’d started both back when the Old Vor were a lot more Old Vor than they were now-Miles thought of his grandfather, by way of exemplar, and suppressed a shudder.
   “And the marriage seemed to start out well,” the Professor went on. “She seemed busy and happy, there was little Nikki come along… Tien changed jobs rather often, I thought, but he was new in his career; sometimes it takes a few false starts to find your legs. Ekaterin grew out of touch with us, but when we did see her, she was… quieter. Tien never did settle down, always chasing some rainbow no one else could see. I think all the moves were hard on her.” He frowned, as if thinking back for missed clues.
   Miles did not dare explain about the Vorzohn’s Dystrophy without Ekaterin’s express permission, he decided. It was not his right. He confined himself to remarking, “I think Ekaterin may feel free to explain more of it now.”
   The Professor squinted worriedly at him. “Oh…?”
   I wonder what answers I’d get to those same questions if I could ask the Professora? Miles shook his head, and went to call Ekaterin to the comconsole.
   Ekaterin. He tasted the syllables of her name in his mind. It had been so easy, speaking with her uncle, to slip into the familiar form. But she had not yet invited him to use her first name. Her late husband had called her Kat. A pet name. A little name. As if he hadn’t had time to pronounce the whole thing, or wished to be bothered. It was true her full array, Ekaterin Nile Vorvayne Vorsoisson, made an impractical mouthful. But Ekaterin was light on the teeth and the tip of the tongue, yet elegant and dignified and entirely worth an extra second of, of anyone’s time.
   “Madame Vorsoisson?” he called quietly down the hall.
   She emerged from her workroom; he gestured to the secured vid-link. Her face was grave, and her steps reluctant; he closed the office door softly on her, and left her and her uncle in private. Privacy was going to be a rare and precious element for her in the days to come, he could foresee.
   The repair tech arrived at last, along with another duty guard. Miles took them aside for a word.
   “I want you both to stay here till I get back, understand? Madame Vorsoisson is not to be left unguarded. Um… when you’re done with the door, find out from her if there are any other repairs she needs done around here, and take care of them for her.”
   “Yes, my lord.”
   Trailed by his own guard, Miles took himself off to the Terraforming Project offices. He passed ImpSec guards on the bubble-car platform, in the building lobby, and at the corridor entrances to Terraforming’s floors. Miles was put glumly in mind of an Old Vor aphorism about posting a guard on the picket line after the horses were stolen. Once within, the ImpSec personnel shifted from steely-eyed goons to intent techs and clerks, efficiently downloading comconsoles and examining files. Terraforming Project employees watched them in suppressed terror.
   Miles found Colonel Gibbs set up in Vorsoisson’s outer office, with his own imported comconsole planted firmly therein; rather to his surprise, the rabbity Venier was dancing worried attendance upon the ImpSec financial analyst. Venier shot Miles a look of dislike as he strode in.
   “Good morning, Vennie; I didn’t expect to see you, somehow,” Miles greeted him cordially. He was oddly glad the fellow hadn’t been one of Soudha’s. “Hello, Colonel. I’m Vorkosigan. Sorry for dragging you out on such short notice.”
   “My Lord Auditor. I am at your disposal.” Gibbs stood, formally, and took Miles’s proffered hand for a dry handshake. Gibbs was a delight to Miles’s eye; a spare, middle-aged man with graying hair and a meticulous manner who despite his Imperial undress greens looked every bit an accountant. Even having held his new rank for almost three whole months, it still felt odd to Miles to accept the older man’s deference.
   “I trust Captain Tuomonen has briefed you, and passed on the interesting data packet we acquired last night.”
   Gibbs, drawing up a chair for the Lord Auditor, nodded. Venier took the opportunity to excuse himself, and fled without further prompting at Gibbs’ wave of permission. They seated themselves, and Miles went on, “How are you doing so far?” He glanced at the stacks of flimsies the comconsole desk had already acquired.
   Gibbs gave him a faint smile. “For the first three hours’ work, I am reasonably pleased. We have managed to sort out most of Waste Heat Management’s fictitious employees. I expect tracking their false accounts to go quickly. Your Madame Foscol’s report on the late Administrator Vorsoisson’s receipts is very clear. Verifying its truth should not present a serious problem.”
   “Be very cautious about any data which may have passed through her hands,” Miles warned.
   “Oh, yes. She’s quite good. I suspect I am going to find it a pleasure and a privilege to work with her, if you take my meaning, my lord.” Gibb’s eyes glinted.
   So nice to meet a man who loves his job. Well, he’d asked Solstice HQ to send him their best. “Don’t speak too soon about Foscol. I have what promises to be a tedious request for you.”
   “In addition to fictitious employees, I have reason to believe Waste Heat made a lot of fictitious equipment purchases. Phony invoices and the like.”
   “Yes. I’ve turned up three dummy companies they appear to have used for them.”
   “Already? That was quick. How?”
   “I ran a data match of all invoices paid by the Terraforming Project with a list of all real companies in the tax registry of the Empire. Not, you understand, routine for in-house audits, though I believe I’ll forward a suggestion that it should be added to the list of procedures in future. There were three companies left over. My field people are checking them out. I should have confirmation for you by the end of today. It is, I believe, not excessively optimistic to hope we may track every missing mark in a week.”
   “My most urgent concern is not actually the money.” Gibb’s brows rose at this; Miles forged on. “Soudha and his co-conspirators also left with a large amount of equipment. It has crossed my mind that if we had a reliable list of Waste Heat’s equipment and supply purchases, and subtracted from it the current physical inventory of what’s out there at their experiment station, the remainder ought to include everything they took with them.”
   “So it should.” Gibbs eyed him with approval.
   “It’s a brute-force approach,” Miles said apologetically. “And not, alas, quite as simple as a data match.”
   “That,” murmured Gibbs, “is why enlisted men were invented.”
   They smiled at each other in pleased understanding. Miles continued, “This will only work if the supply list is truly accurate. I want you to hunt particularly for phony invoices covering real, but nonstandard, nonaccounted equipment purchases. I want to know if Soudha smuggled in anything… odd.”
   Gibbs’s head tilted in interest; his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “Easy enough for them to have used their dummy companies also to launder those.”
   “If you find anything like that, red-flag it and notify myself or Lord Auditor Vorthys at once. And especially if you turn up any matches with the equipment Vorthys’s probable-cause crew are presently finding at the site of the soletta accident.”
   “Ah! The connection begins to come clear. I must say, I had been wondering why this intense Imperial interest in a mere embezzlement scheme. Though it’s a very nice embezzlement scheme,” he hastened to assure Miles. “Professional.”
   “Quite. Consider that equipment list your top priority, please, Colonel.”
   “Very good, my lord.”
   Leaving Gibbs frowning-rather interestedly, Miles thought— at a fountain of data displays on his comconsole, Miles went to find Tuomonen.
   The tired-looking ImpSec captain reported no surprises uncovered so far this morning. The field agents had not yet picked up Soudha’s trail. HQ had sent in a major with an interrogation unit, who had taken over the systematic examination of the department’s remaining employees; the inquisition was now going on in the conference chamber. “But it’s going to take days to work through them all,” Tuomonen added.
   “Do you still want to do Madame Vorsoisson this afternoon?”
   Tuomonen rubbed his face. “Yes, in all.”
   “I’ll be sitting in.”
   Tuomonen hesitated. “That is your privilege, my lord.”
   Miles considered going to watch the employee interrogations, but decided that in his current physical state he would not contribute anything coherent. Everything seemed to be under control, for the moment, except for himself. The morning’s painkillers were beginning to wear off, and the corridor was getting wavery around the edges. If he was going to be useful to anyone later in the day, he’d better give his battered body a rest. “I’ll see you back at Madame Vorsoisson’s, then,” he told Tuomonen.


   Ekaterin seated herself at the comconsole in her workroom and began to triage the shambles of her life. It was actually simpler than her first fears had supposed-there was so little of it, after all. How did I grow so small?
   She made a list of her resources. At the top, and most vital: medical care for the dependents of a deceased project employee was guaranteed till the end of the quarter, a few weeks away yet. A time window, of sorts. She counted the days in her head. It would be time enough for Nikki, if she didn’t waste any.
   A few hundred marks remained in her household account, and a few hundred marks in Tien’s. Her use of this apartment also ran till the end of the quarter, when she must vacate it to make way for the next administrator to be appointed to Tien’s position. That was fine; she didn’t want to stay here longer. No pension, of course. She grimaced. Guaranteed passage back to Barrayar, unavailable while Tien was alive, was due her and Nikki as another death benefit, and thank heavens Tien hadn’t figured out how to cash that in.
   The physical objects she owned were more burden than asset, given that she must transport them by jumpship. The free weight limit was not generous. She’d apportion Nikki the bulk of their weight allowance; his little treasures meant more to him than most of her larger ones did to her. It was stupid to let herself feel overwhelmed by a few rooms of things she’d been willing to abandon altogether bare hours ago. She could still abandon them, if she chose. She’d frequented a certain secondhand shop in a seedier part of the dome to clothe herself and Nikki. She could sell Tien’s clothing and ordinary effects there, a chore which need only take a few hours. For herself, she longed to travel light.
   On the other side of the ledger, her debts too were simple, if overwhelming. First were the twenty thousand marks Tien had borrowed and not paid back. Then-was she honor-bound, for the sake of Vor pride and Nikki’s family name, to make restitution to the Imperium for the bribe money Tien had accepted? Well, you can’t do it today. Pass on to what you can do.
   She had researched the medical resources on Komarr for treating genetic disorders till the information had worn grooves in her brain, fantasized solutions that Tien’s paranoias-and his legal control of his heir-had blocked her from carrying out. Technically, Nikki’s legal guardian now was some male third cousin of Tien’s back on Barrayar whom Ekaterin had never met. Nikki not being heir to a fortune or a Countship, the transfer of his guardianship back to her was probably hers for the asking. She would deal with that legal kink later, too. For now, it took her something under nine minutes to contact the top clinic on Komarr, in Solstice, and browbeat them into setting up Nikki’s first appointment for the day after tomorrow, instead of the five weeks from today they first tried to offer her.
   So simple. She shook with a spasm of rage, at Tien, and at herself. This could have been done months ago, when they’d first come to Komarr, as easily as this, if only she’d mustered the courage to defy Tien.
   Next she must notify Tien’s mother, his closest living relative. Ekaterin could leave it to her to spread the news to Tien’s more distant relatives back on Barrayar. Not feeling up to recording a vid message, she put it in writing, hoping it would not appear too cold. An accident with a breath mask, which Tien had failed to check. Nothing about the Komarrans, nothing about the embezzlement, nothing to which ImpSec could object. Tien’s mother might never need to know of Tien’s dishonor. Ekaterin humbly requested her preferences as to ceremonies and the disposition of the remains. Most likely she would want them returned to Barrayar to bury beside Tien’s brother. Ekaterin could not help imagining her own feelings, in some future scene, if she entrusted Nikki to his bride with all bright promise only to have him returned to her later as a heap of ashes in a box. With a note. No, she would have to see this through in person. All that also must come later. She sent the message on its way.
   The physical was easy; she could be finished and packed in a week. The financial was… no, not impossible, just not possible to solve at once. Presumably she must take out a loan on longer terms to pay off the first one-assuming anyone would loan money to a destitute and unemployed widow. Tien’s antilegacy clouded the glimmerings of the new future she ached to claim for herself. She imagined a bird, released from ten years in a cage, told she could at last fly free-as soon as these lead weights were attached to her feet.
   This bird’s going to get there if she has to walk every step.
   The comconsole chimed, startling her from this determined reverie. A man, soberly dressed in the Komarran style, appeared over the vid-plate at her touch. He wasn’t anyone she knew from Tien’s department.
   “How do you do, ma’am,” he said, looking at her uncertainly. “My name is Ser Anafi, and I represent the Rialto Sharemarket Agency. I’m trying to reach Etienne Vorsoisson.”
   She recognized the name of the company whose money Tien had lost on the trade fleet shares. “He’s… not available. I’m Madame Vorsoisson. What is your question?”
   Anafi’s gaze at her grew more stern. “This is the fourth reminder notice of his outstanding loan balance, now overdue. He must either pay in full, or take immediate action to set up a new repayment schedule.”
   “How do you normally set up such a schedule?”
   Anafi appeared surprised at this measured response. Had he dealt with Tien before this? He unbent slightly, leaning back in his chair. “Well… we normally calculate a percentage of the customer’s salary, mitigated by any available collateral they may be able to offer.”
   I have no salary. I have no possessions. Anafi, she suspected, would not be pleased to learn this. “Tien… died in an accident last night. Things are in some disarray here today.”
   Anafi looked taken aback. “Oh. I’m sorry, Madame,” he managed.
   “I don’t suppose… was the loan insured?”
   “I’ll check, Madame Vorsoisson. Let us hope…” Anafi turned to his comconsole; after a moment, he frowned. “I’m sorry to say, it was not.”
   Ah, Tien. “How should I pay it back?”
   Anafi was silent a long moment, as if thinking. “If you would be willing to cosign for the loan, I could set up a payment schedule today for you.”
   “You can do that?”
   At a tentative knock on the door frame of her workroom, she glanced around. Lord Vorkosigan had returned and stood leaning in the opening. How long had he been standing there? He gestured inside, and she nodded. He walked in and eyed Anafi over her shoulder. “Who is this guy?” he murmured.
   “His name’s Anafi. He’s from the company Tien owes for the fleet shares loan.”
   “Ah. Allow me.” He stepped up to the comconsole and tapped in a code. The view split, and a gray-haired man with colonel’s tabs and Eye-of-Horus pins on his green uniform collar appeared.
   “Colonel Gibbs,” said Lord Vorkosigan genially. “I have some more data for you regarding Administrator Vorsoisson’s financial affairs. Ser Anafi, meet Colonel Gibbs. ImpSec. He has a few questions for you. Good day.”
   “ImpSec!” said Anafi in startled horror. “ImpSec? What does-” He blipped out at Lord Vorkosigan’s flourishing gesture.
   “No more Anafi,” he said, with some satisfaction. “Not for the next several days, anyway.”
   “Now, was that nice?” asked Ekaterin, amused in spite of herself. “They loaned that money to Tien in all good faith.”
   “Nevertheless, don’t sign anything till you take legal advice. If you knew nothing of the loan, it’s possible Tien’s estate is liable for it, and not you. His creditors must squabble with each other for the pieces, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.”
   “But there’s nothing in Tien’s estate but debts.” And dishonor.
   “Then the squabble will be short.”
   “But is it fair?”
   “Death is an ordinary business risk-in some businesses more than others, of course…”He smiled briefly. “Ser Anafi was getting ready to have you sign on the spot. This suggests to me that he was perfectly aware of his risk, and thought he might hustle you into taking over a debt not rightfully yours while you were still in shock. Not fair. In fact, not ethical at all. Yes, I think we can leave him to ImpSec.”
   This was all rather high-handed, but… it was hard not to respond to the enthusiastic glint in Vorkosigan’s eye as he’d annihilated her adversary.
   “Thank you, Lord Vorkosigan. But I really need to learn how to do these things for myself.”
   “Oh, yes,” he agreed without the least hesitation. “I wish Tsipis were here. He’s been my family’s man of business for thirty years. He adores tutoring the uninitiated. If I could turn him loose on you, you’d be up to speed in no time, and he’d be just ecstatic. I’m afraid he found me a frustrating pupil in my youth. I only wanted to learn about the military. He finally managed to smuggle in some economic education by presenting it as logistics and supply problems.” He leaned against the comconsole desk, and crossed his arms, and tilted his head. “Do you think you will be returning to Barrayar anytime soon?”
   “Just as soon as I possibly can. I can hardly bear being in this place.”
   “I think I understand. Where, ah, would you go, on Barrayar?”
   She stared broodingly at the empty vid-plate. “I’m not sure yet. Not to my father’s household.” To be crammed back into the status of a child again… She pictured herself arriving penniless and without resources, to batten upon her father or one of her brothers. They’d let her batten, all right, generously, but they would also act as if her dependence deprived her of rights and dignity and even intelligence. They would then arrange her life for her own good… “I’m sure I’d be welcome, but I’m afraid his solution to my problems would be to try to marry me off again. The idea makes me gag, just now.”
   “Oh,” said Lord Vorkosigan.
   A brief silence fell.
   “What would you do if you could do anything?” he asked suddenly. “No limited resources to juggle, no practical considerations. Anything at all.”
   “I don’t… I usually start with the possible, and pare away from there.”
   “Try for more scope.” A vague wave of his arm taking in the planet from zenith to horizon indicated his idea of scope.
   She thought back, all the way back, to the point in her life where she had made that fatal wrong turn. So many years lost. “Well. I suppose… I would go back to university. But this time, I’d know what I was about. Formal training in horticulture and in art, for garden design; chemistry and biochemistry and botany and genetic manipulation. Real expertise, the kind that means you can’t be intimidated or, or… persuaded to go along with something stupid because you think everyone in the universe knows more than you do.” She frowned ruefully.
   “So you could design gardens for pay?”
   “More than that.” Her eyes narrowed, as she struggled for her inner vision.
   “Planets? Terraforming?”
   “Oh, good heavens. That training takes ten years, and another ten years of internship beyond it, before you can even begin to grasp the complexities.”
   “So? They have to hire someone. Good God, they hired Tien.”
   “He was only an administrator.” She shook her head, daunted.
   “All right,” he said cheerfully. “Bigger than a garden, smaller than a planet. That still leaves sufficient scope, I’d say. A Barrayaran District could be a good start. One with incomplete terraforming, say, and, and forestry projects, and, oh, damaged land reclamation, and a crying need for a touch of beauty. And,” he went on, “you could work up to planets.”
   She had to laugh. “What is this obsession with planets? Will nothing smaller do, for you?”
   “Elli Qu-a friend of mine used to say, ‘Aim high. You may still miss the target but at least you won’t shoot your foot off.’” His grin winked at her. He hesitated, then said more slowly, “You know… your father and brothers aren’t your only relatives. The Professor and the Professora are boundless in their enthusiasm for education. You can’t convince me they wouldn’t be pleased to shelter you and Nikki in their home while you got your new start. And you’d be right there in Vorbarr Sultana, practically next door to the University and, um, everything. Good schools for Nikki.”
   She sighed. “It would be such a lovely change for him to stay in one place for a while. He could finally cultivate friends he wouldn’t have to abandon. But… I’ve come to despise dependency.”
   He eyed her shrewdly. “Because it betrayed you?”
   “Or lured me into betraying myself.”
   “Mm. But surely there is a qualitative difference between, um, a greenhouse and a cryo-chamber. Both provide shelter, but the first promotes growth, while the second merely, um…” He seemed to have become a little tangled in his metaphor.
   “Retards decay?” Ekaterin politely tried to help unwind him.
   “Just so.” His brief grin again. “Anyway, I’m pretty sure the Professors are a human greenhouse. All those students-they’re used to people growing up and moving on. They regard it as normal. I’d think you’d like it there.” He wandered to her window and glanced out.
   “I did like it there,” she admitted wistfully.
   “Then it all sounds perfectly possible to me. Good, that’s settled. Have you had lunch?”
   “What?” She laughed, and clutched her hair.
   “Lunch,” he repeated, deadpan. “Many people eat it at about this time of day.”
   “You’re mad,” she said with conviction, ignoring this willful piece of misdirection. “Do you always dispose of people’s futures in that offhand fashion?”
   “Only when I’m hungry.”
   She gave up. “I suppose I have something I can fix-”
   “Certainly not!” he said indignantly. “I sent a minion. I just spotted him returning across the park, with a very promising large bag. The guards have to eat too, you see.”
   She contemplated, briefly, the spectacle of a man who casually sent ImpSec for carry-out. There probably were security concerns about meals on duty, at that. She let Vorkosigan shepherd her into her own kitchen, where they selected from a dozen containers. Ekaterin snitched a flaky apricot tart to set aside for Nikki, and they sent the remainder to the living room for the guards to picnic off. The only thing Vorkosigan permitted her to do was supply fresh tea.
   “Did you find out anything new this morning?” she asked him, when they were settled at the table. She tried not to think about her last conversation here with Tien. Oh, yes, I want to go home. “Any word on Soudha and Foscol?”
   “Not yet. Part of me expects ImpSec to catch up with them at any moment. Part of me… is not so optimistic. I keep wondering just how long they had to plan their departure.”
   “Well… I don’t think they were expecting Imperial Auditors to arrive in Serifosa. That, at least, came as a surprise to them.”
   “Hm. Ah! I know why this whole thing feels so odd. It’s as though my entire brain is suffering a time lag, and it’s not just the bloody seizures. I’m on the wrong side. I’m on the damned defense, not the offense. One step behind all the time, reacting not acting-and I’m horribly afraid it may be an intrinsic condition of my new job.” He downed a bite of sandwich. “Unless I can sell Gregor on the idea of an Auditor Provocateur… Well, anyway, I did have one idea, which I propose to spring on your uncle when he gets downside.” He paused; silence fell. After a moment he added, “If you make an encouraging noise, I’ll go on.”
   He’d caught her with her mouth full. “Hmm?”
   “Lovely, yes. You see, suppose… suppose this thing of Soudha’s is more than a mere embezzlement scheme. Maybe they were diverting all those Imperial funds to support a real research and development project, although nothing to do with Waste Heat Management. It may be a prejudice of my military background, but I keep thinking they might have been building a weapon. Some new variation on the gravitic imploder lance, I don’t know.” He gulped tea.
   “I never had the impression that Soudha or any of the other Komarrans in the Terraforming Project were very military-minded. Quite the opposite.”
   “They needn’t be, for an act of sabotage. Some grand stupid vile gesture-I keep worrying about Gregor’s wedding coming up.”
   “Soudha isn’t grandiose,” said Ekaterin slowly. “Nor vile, particularly.” She didn’t doubt that Tien’s death had been unintended.
   “Nor stupid.” Vorkosigan sighed regretfully. “I merely suggest that timetable to make myself nervous. Keeps me awake. But suppose it was a weapon. Did they perhaps attack that ore ship, as a test? Vile enough. Did their smoke test go very wrong? Was the subsequent damage to the mirror accidental, or deliberate? Or was it the other way around? The condition of Radovas’s body suggests something backfired. A falling-out among thieves? Anyway, to anchor this spate of speculation to some sort of physical fact, I plan to get a list of every piece of equipment Soudha bought for his department, subtract from it everything they left there, and produce a parts list for their secret weapon. At this point my brilliance fails, and I plan to dump it on your uncle.”
   “Oh!” said Ekaterin. “He’ll like that. He’ll growl at you.”
   “Is that a good sign?”
   “Hm. So, positing a secret-weapon sabotage-attack… how close are they to success? I keep coming back-sorry-to Foscol’s odd behavior in providing that data packet of evidence against Tien. It seems to proclaim: it doesn’t matter if the Komarrans are incriminated, because-fill in the blank. Because why? Because they will not be here to suffer the consequences? That suggests flight, which runs counter to the weapon hypothesis, which requires that they linger to use it.”
   “Or that they believed you would not be here to inflict the consequences,” said Ekaterin. Had they meant Vorkosigan to die, too? Or… what?
   “Oh, nice. That’s reassuring.” He bit rather aggressively into the last of his sandwich.
   She rested her chin on her hand and regarded him with wry curiosity. “Does ImpSec know you babble like this?”
   “Only when I’m very tired. Besides, I like to think out loud. It slows it down so I can get a good look at it. It gives you some idea of what living in my head is like. I admit, very few people can stand to listen at length.” He shot her an odd sideways look. Indeed, whenever his animation slowed-which was not often-a gray weariness flashed underneath. “Anyway, you encouraged me. You sang Hmm.”
   She stared in amused indignation and refused to rise to the bait.
   “Sorry,” he said in a smaller voice. “I think I’m a little disoriented just now.” He gave her an apologetic grimace. “I actually came back here to rest. Is that not sensible of me? I must be getting old.”
   Both their lives were out of phase with their chronological ages, Ekaterin realized bemusedly. She now possessed the education of a child and the status of a dowager. Vorkosigan… was young for his post, to be sure. But this whole posthumous second life of his was surely as old as you could be at any age. “Time is out of joint,” she murmured; he looked up sharply, and seemed about to speak.
   Voices from the vestibule interrupted whatever he’d been about to say. Ekaterin’s head turned. “Tuomonen, so soon?”
   “Do you want to put this off?” Vorkosigan asked her.
   She shook her head. “No. I want to get it over with. I want to go get Nikki.”
   “Ah.” He drained his tea mug and rose, and they both went out to her living room. It was indeed Captain Tuomonen. He nodded to Vorkosigan, and greeted her politely. He had brought a female medtech with him, in the uniform of the Barrayaran military medical auxiliary, whom he also introduced. She carried a medkit, which she placed on the round table and opened. Ampoules and hyposprays glittered in their gel slots. Other first-aid supplies hinted at more sinister possibilities.
   Tuomonen indicated Ekaterin should sit on the circular couch. “Are you ready, Madame Vorsoisson?”
   “I suppose so.” Ekaterin watched with concealed fear and some loathing as the medtech loaded her hypospray and showed it to Tuomonen to cross-check.
   The medtech laid a second hypospray out at the ready, and pulled a small, burr-like patch off a plastic strip. “Would you hold out your wrist, Madame?”
   Ekaterin did so; the woman pressed the allergy test patch firmly against her skin, then peeled it up again. She continued to hold Ekaterin’s wrist while she marked time on her chrono. Her fingers were dry and cold.
   Tuomonen dispatched the two guards to the perimeter, namely the hallway and the balcony, and set up a vid recorder on a tripod. He then turned to Vorkosigan, and with a rather odd emphasis, said, “May I remind you, Lord Vorkosigan, that more than one questioner can create unnecessary confusion in a fast-penta interrogation.”
   Vorkosigan gave him an acknowledging hand wave. “Quite. I know the drill. Go ahead, Captain.”
   Tuomonen glanced at the medtech, who stared closely at Ekaterin’s wrist, then released it. “She’s clear,” the woman reported.
   “Proceed, please.”
   At the medtech’s direction, Ekaterin rolled up her sleeve. The hypospray hissed against her skin with a cold bite.
   Count backwards slowly from ten,” Tuomonen told her.
   “Ten,” Ekaterin said obediently. “Nine… eight… seven…”


   Two… one…” Ekaterin’s voice, almost inaudible at first, grew more firm as she counted down.
   Miles thought he could almost mark Ekaterin’s heartbeats, as the drug flooded her system. Her tightly clenched hands loosened in her lap. Tension in her face, neck, shoulders, and body melted away like snow in the sun. Her eyes widened and brightened, her pale cheeks flushed with soft color; her lips parted and curved, and she looked up at Miles, beyond Tuomonen, with an astonished sunny smile.
   “Oh,” she said, in a surprised voice. “It doesn’t hurt.”
   “No, fast-penta doesn’t hurt,” said Tuomonen, in a level, reassuring tone.
   That isn’t what she means, Tuomonen. If a person lived in hurt like a mermaid in water, till hurt became as invisible as breath, its sudden removal-however artificial-must come as a stunning event. Miles breathed covert relief that Ekaterin apparently wasn’t going to be a giggler or a drooler, nor was she one of the occasional unfortunates in whom the drug released a torrent of verbal obscenities, or an almost equally embarrassing torrent of tears.
   No. The kicker here is going to be when we take it away again. The realization chilled him. But my God, isn’t she beautiful when she is not in pain? Her open, smiling warmth looked strangely familiar to him, and he tried to remember just when he’d seen that sweet air about her before. Not today, not yesterday…
   It was in your dream.
   He sat back and rested his chin in his hand, fingers across his mouth, as Tuomonen started down the list of standard neutral questions: name, birth date, parents’ names, the usual. The purpose was not only to give the drug time to take full effect, but also to set up a rhythm of question-and-answer which would help carry the interrogation along when the questions, and answers, became more difficult. Ekaterin’s birthday was just three weeks before his own, Miles noted in passing, but the War of Vordarian’s Pretendership, which had so disrupted their mutual birth year in the regions around Vorbarr Sultana, had scarcely touched the South Continent.
   The medtech had settled herself on a chair drawn up outside the conversation circle, out of the line of sight between interrogator and subject, but not, alas, entirely out of earshot. Miles trusted she had suitable top security clearances. He didn’t know, and decided not to ask, if her gender represented delicacy on Tuomonen’s part, tacit acknowledgment that a fast-penta interrogation could be a mind-rape. Physical brutality did not mix with fast-penta interrogation, which had helped to eliminate certain unsavory psychological types from successful careers as interrogators. But physical assault was not the only possible kind, nor even necessarily the worst. Or maybe she’d just been next up on the roster of available personnel.
   Tuomonen moved on to more recent history. Exactly when had Tien acquired his Komarran post, and how? Had he known anyone in his department-to-be, or met with anyone in Soudha’s group, before they’d left Barrayar? No? Had she seen any of his correspondence? Ekaterin, growing ever more cheerful in fast-penta elation, rattled on as confidingly as a child. She’d been so excited about the appointment, about the promised proximity to good medical facilities, certain she would get galactic-class help for Nikki at last. She had agonized over Tien’s application and helped him to write it. Well, yes, written most of it for him. Serifosa Dome was fascinating, and their assigned apartment much larger and nicer than she’d been led to expect. Tien said the Komarrans were all techno-snobs, but she had not found them to be so…
   Gently, Tuomonen led her back to the issue at hand. Just when had she discovered her husband’s involvement in the embezzlement scheme, and how? She repeated the same story about Tien’s midnight call to Soudha she had given Miles last night, larded with more extraneous details-among other things she insisted on giving Tuomonen a complete recipe for spiced brandied milk. Fast-penta did do odd things to one’s memory, even though it did not, despite rumor, give one perfect recall. Her report of the overheard conversation sounded nearly verbatim, though. Despite his obvious fatigue, Tuomonen was skillful and patient, allowing her to ramble on at length, alert for the hidden gem of critical information in these flowing associations an interrogator always hoped would turn up, but usually didn’t.
   Her description of breaking into her husband’s comconsole the following morning included the mulish side comment, “If Lord Vorkosigan could do it, I could do it,” which at Tuomonen’s alert query triggered an embarrassing detour into her views of Miles’s earlier ImpSec-style raid on her own comconsole. Miles bit his lip and met Tuomonen’s raised brows blandly.
   “He did say he liked my gardens, though. Nobody else in my family wants to even look at them.” She sighed, and smiled shyly at Miles. Dared he hope he was forgiven?
   Tuomonen consulted his plastic flimsy. “If you didn’t discover your husband’s debts until yesterday morning, why did you transfer almost four thousand marks into his account on the previous morning?” His attention sharpened at Ekaterin’s look of drunken dismay.
   “He lied to me. Bastard. Said we were going for the galactic treatment. No! He didn’t say it, damn it. Fool, me. I wanted it to be true so much. Better a fool than a liar. Is it? I didn’t want to be like him.”
   Tuomonen sought enlightenment of Miles with a quick baffled glance. Miles blew out his breath. “Ask her if it was Nikki’s money.”
   “Nikki’s money,” she confirmed with a quick nod. Despite the fast-penta wooze, she frowned fiercely.
   “This make sense to you, my lord?” Tuomonen murmured.
   “I’m afraid so. She had saved just that sum out of her household accounts toward her son’s medical treatment. I saw the account in her files, when I was taking that, um, unfortunate tour. I take it that her husband, claiming to be using it for that purpose, instead relieved her of it to stave off his creditors.” Embezzlement indeed. Miles exhaled, to bring his blood pressure back down. “Have you traced it?”
   “Tien transferred it upon receipt to the Rialto Sharemarket Agency.”
   “There’s no getting it back, I suppose?”
   “Ask Gibbs, but I don’t think so.”
   “Ah.” Miles bit his knuckle, and nodded for Tuomonen to proceed. Now armed with the right questions, Tuomonen confirmed this interpretation explicitly, and went on to draw out all the intensely personal details about the Vorzohn’s Dystrophy.
   In exactly the same neutral tone, Tuomonen asked, “Did you arrange your husband’s death?”
   “No.” Ekaterin sighed.
   “Did you ask anyone, or pay anyone, to kill him?”
   “Did you know he was to be killed?”
   Fast-penta frequently made subjects bloody literal-minded; you always asked the important questions, the ones you were hot about, in a number of different ways, to be sure.
   “Did you kill him yourself?”
   “Did you love him?”
   Ekaterin hesitated. Miles frowned. Facts were ImpSec’s rightful prey; feelings, maybe less so. But Tuomonen wasn’t quite out of line yet.
   “I think I did, once. I must have. I remember the wonderful look on his face, the day Nikki was born. I must have. He wore it out. I can hardly remember that time.”
   “Did you hate him?”
   “No… yes… I don’t know. He wore that out too.” She looked earnestly at Tuomonen. “He never hit me, you know.”
   What an obituary. When I go down into the ground at last, as God is my judge, I pray my best-beloved may have better to say of me than, “He didn’t hit me.” Miles set his jaw and said nothing.
   “Are you sorry he died?”
   Watch it, Tuomonen…
   “Oh, but it was such a relief. What a nightmare today would have been if Tien were still alive. Though I suppose ImpSec would have taken him away. Theft and treason. But I would have had to go see him. Lord Vorkosigan said I could not have saved him. There was not enough time after Foscol called me. I’m so glad. It’s so ugly to be so glad. I suppose I should forgive Tien for everything, because he’s dead now, but I’ll never forgive him for turning me into something so ugly.” Despite the drug, tears were leaking from her eyes now. “I didn’t use to be this kind of person, but now I can’t go back.”
   Some truths cut deeper than even fast-penta could soak. Expressionlessly, Miles reached past Tuomonen and handed Ekaterin a tissue. She blotted the moisture in owlish distress.
   “Does she need more drug?” the medtech whispered.
   “No.” Miles made a hand-down gesture for silence.
   Tuomonen asked some more neutral questions, till something like his subject’s original sunny and confiding air returned. Yeah. Nobody should have to do this much truth all at once.
   Tuomonen looked at his flimsy, glanced uneasily at Miles, licked his lips, and said, “Your cases and Lord Vorkosigan’s were found together in your vestibule. Were you planning to leave together?”
   Shock and fury flushed through Miles in a hot wave. Tuomonen, you dare-! But the memory of sorting through all that mixed underwear under the eye of the ImpSec guard stopped his words; so, yes, it could have looked odd, to someone who didn’t know what was going on. He converted his boiling words to a slow breath, which he let out in a trickle. Tuomonen’s eyes flicked sideways, wary of that sigh.
   Ekaterin blinked at him in some confusion. “I’d hoped to.”
   What? Oh. “She means, at the same time,” Miles gritted through his teeth to Tuomonen. “Not together. Try that.”
   “Was Lord Vorkosigan planning to take you away?”
   “Away? Oh, what a lovely idea. Nobody was taking me away. Who would? I had to take myself away. Tien threw my aunt’s skellytum over the balcony, but he didn’t quite dare throw me. He wanted to, I think.”
   Miles was diverted to brood on these last words. How much physical courage had it taken her, to stand up to Tien at the last? Miles did not underestimate just what nerve it took to face down large angry men who had the power to pick you up and pitch you across the room. Nerve and wit and never letting yourself get within arm’s reach, nor blocked from the door. The calculations were automatic. And you had to stay in practice. For Ekaterin, it must have felt like landing a fully-loaded freight shuttle on her very first flying lesson.
   Tuomonen, trying desperately for clarity and still with one eye on Miles, repeated, “Were you going to elope with Lord Vorkosigan?”
   Her brows flew up. “No!” she said in astonishment.
   No, of course not. Miles tried to recapture his first properly stunned reaction to the accusation, except that it now came out, What a great idea. Why didn’t I think of it? which rather blunted the fine edge of his outrage. Anyway, she’d never have run off with him. It was all he could do to get a Barrayaran woman to walk down the street with a sawed-off mutie like him…
   Oh hell. Have you fallen in love with this woman, idiot boy?
   Um. Yeah.
   He’d been falling for days, he realized in retrospect. It was just that he’d finally hit the ground. He should have recognized the symptoms. Oh, Tuomonen. The things we learn under fast-penta.
   He could finally see what Tuomonen was getting at, though, all complete. A nice neat little conspiracy: murder Tien, blame it on the Komarrans, run off with his wife over his dead body… “A most flattering scenario, Tuomonen,” Miles breathed to the ImpSec captain. “Quick work on my part, considering I only met her five days ago. I thank you.” Was ever woman in this humor wooed? Was ever woman in this humor won? I think not.